6 Healthy Heart Habits

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Feb. 2, 2023

Heart disease is the second-leading cause of death in South Carolina. The heart is central to overall health. Healthy heart habits are important at any age. 

Keeping your heart healthy doesn’t have to be complicated. Kylah Stanton, a BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina health and wellness coach and cardiac registered nurse, shares simple ways to take care of your heart. 

“I tell my members to think about what they need more of in their lives. Focus on what is important to you to change and improve one thing at a time. The small things you change can lead to a big improvement over time,” she says. 

Visit your doctor regularly 

It is important to have a doctor you trust, one who knows your health history, such as a primary care physician. Knowing your health history can be key in understanding risks. 

“I can’t stress this enough: At least get yearly checkups and health screenings,” Stanton says. 

When you visit your doctor, ask questions

Eat heart-healthy foods 

A nutrient-rich diet is key for heart health. This includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Limit red meat, salt and sugar in your diet. Find more tips for healthy foods on our blog

You can find healthy ideas on the American Heart Association’s (AHA*) website

Move your body 

The AHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention* recommend exercising at least 150 minutes a week. This might be 30 minutes a day for five days. 

Add strength training two days a week. You can do this with light dumbbells or resistance bands. 

“Exercise is important because it lowers blood pressure. It can lower cholesterol. It helps you maintain a healthy weight,” Stanton says. 

Quit smoking and limit alcohol 

Smoking is a proven risk factor for heart attack and stroke. This includes vaping. Exposure to secondhand smoke also increases risks. 

Limit alcohol to one drink per day for women and two for men. Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. 

“If you reduce these risk factors, then you're reducing your risk for high blood pressure and diabetes. It all circles back to heart health,” Stanton says. 

Monitor your blood pressure 

It is good to know your numbers, she says. The AHA recommends a blood pressure of less than 120/80 mmHg.  

It is easy to get a blood pressure machine for your home. These are relatively inexpensive at most retailers. The AHA website has tips for monitoring blood pressure at home. 

"People on medications to manage blood pressure should check their numbers about once a week," Stanton says. Other people should check their blood pressure monthly. 

If your numbers are higher than recommended, call your doctor. Keeping a log of your numbers can help you see if numbers start to creep up. 

Manage stress and get sleep 

Stress can increase risk factors for heart disease. Everyone experiences stress. Getting stress under control is important for good health. 

To manage stress: 

  • Practice gratitude. 
  • Get outside. 
  • Go for a walk. 
  • Take time for yourself. 

One way to improve overall health and reduce stress is to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Sleep has a big impact on health. Find helpful tips for getting better sleep on the AHA website. 

If these six changes seem daunting, do not worry about “going big.” Take the stairs. Park in the farthest parking spot. Add a healthy vegetable to dinner. Cut back on alcohol. 

“It’s never too late to start making healthy changes. No change is too small. As long as you are being healthy and trying to make a change, there is a benefit,” Stanton says. 

*The American Heart Association® and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are independent organizations that provide health information you may find helpful.

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